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Mastering Perl

brian d foy
Published by O'Reilly Media
342 pages
£ 24.99
Published: July 2007
reviewed by Bob Vickers
   in the December 2007 issue (pdf), (html)

This book is the third book in the series that started with Learning Perl and Intermediate Perl. Its goal is to help you become a master programmer: someone who is not just familiar with the tools Perl provides, but also capable of writing programs that are professional, robust, scalable and maintainable.

Most of the book is therefore about general techniques useful in any Perl application. For example, there are chapters on Secure Programming, Debugging, Profiling & Benchmarking, Configuration, and Logging. Other chapters put a magnifying glass on particular Perl features, such as Regular Expressions, Working with Bits, and Tied Variables.

I found the book easy to read, with plenty of interesting information. It is clear that the author has a lot of experience both writing and teaching Perl, and his enthusiasm shines through.

He starts with a chapter on Advanced Regular Expressions, showing you some advanced techniques and showing you how to debug them when they go wrong. He also gives a much simpler tip which was new to me: use the /x qualifier which allows you to include white space and comments. Brilliant!

He follows with a chapter on Secure Programming Techniques which contains excellent advice for people writing setuid programs or CGI scripts. Then come chapters on debugging, profiling and benchmarking; I guess most Perl programmers don't need to worry much about performance, but we all need to debug. And debugging is much more than being familiar with software tools, it is also a matter of getting yourself in the right frame of mind so that the answer just pops out. So an appendix is included called ``brian's Guide to Solving Any Perl Problem'' which includes the wonderful advice ``Did you talk to the bear?''. The bear is not included, you have to supply your own.

There is a chapter on testing which describes how you can turn a standalone script into a module, and thus use the Perl testing framework. Also there is good solid stuff about logging, error detection and making your programs configurable.

Other chapters are less about good programming and more about doing clever things. For example, manipulating the symbol table, using dynamic subroutines, working with bits and tied variables.

In summary: I would recommend this book to anyone with a decent knowledge of Perl who would like to learn more.

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